July 31, 2012

Blu-ray Review: The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect is a movie that arrived at something of a critical point in Ashton Kutcher's career. I don't think anyone would argue that he is a good actor, but given the right material he can be serviceable. Looking over his filmography, this was the first project to push him. Before this movie he was best known as the resident idiot Kelso on That 70s Show. He parlayed his sensibilities to big screen comedies like Dude, Where's My Car? and Just Married, but he had not had a project that allowed him to stretch his range. This movie, released back in 2004, gave us the first glimpse of what Kutcher could do. To tell the truth, he isn't that bad.

The movie takes its cues from chaos theory and Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder. You know the idea of a butterfly flapping is wings in China causing a typhoon on the other side of the world? The Butterfly Effect is all about how the choices we make have long lasting effects that we cannot predict, essentially changing the entire path of a life.

At the center of the story is Evan Treborn (played as a young adult by Kutcher). While he is growing up, he is plagued with blackouts. These blackouts happen at key moments of stress. It is kind of understandable, these stressful periods include his friends' father (a particularly slimy performance from Eric Stoltz) making child pornography and an accident involving an exploding mailbox and a baby. If these things happened to me, I would want to black them out too.

Evan's mother takes him to doctors to try to find the cause of the blackouts and what happened during them. One of the suggestions is for Evan to keep a journal. He began to document everything that happens. Life goes on and Evan grows up to be a psychology student. It is around this time that he makes a discovery. While reading from his journals and really concentrating on the words, he can actually transport himself back in time. Coincidentally, the times he travels back to line up with his blackouts. He also learns that he can change things in the past. Evan sets about to try and improve the his life and the lives of those he cares about. However, in true chaos theory fashion, every little thing he changes ends up with unintended and often tragic results.

Written and directed by Eric Bress and J, Mackye Gruber (co-writers of Final Destination 2), the duo have crafted an interesting, yet flawed film. The Butterfly Effect is a movie that is simultaneously simple and complex. It is a movie that is easy to follow, but if you pay attention, there are lots of bits and pieces to pick up on. The movie is essentially a big jigsaw puzzle of its characters lives. It is a movie that is involving to each, but when you think about it, you realize that the scope is rather limited, the events changed only affect the main characters, there is no apparent affect on the world around them. It is the sort of movie that works in the moment, but upon reflection reveals its shortcomings.

This is a movie that has been tagged with a variety of genre labels, drama, thriller, science fiction, and horror all come to mind. There can definitely be an argument for each of them, none of them are blatantly wrong, but I would like to add another, exploitation. It uses the lurid subject matter of child pornography, baby killing, and murder as a way to push their story of time travel and personal responsibility closer to the edge of acceptability. Don't get me wrong, it is an interesting tale, but it is those hot button moments that make the movie memorable and stand out from the crowd.

Audio/Video. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and for the most part, it looks pretty good. The transfer retains a natural looking film grain, which is always nice to see. There is a solid level of detail throughout and the look reflects what I faintly remember from the theaters. The filmmakers attempted to make each timeline look distinctly different from each other, not to mention the flashback sequences. This stylistic choice results in a variety of looks ranging from natural, to over saturated color, to a washed out look. This results in fluctuating details throughout. It is not a perfect looking movie, but it is a very good one that allows the imperfections of the stye shine through.

The audio track is a DTS-HD 6.1 and sounds good. It makes nice ambient use of the surrounds and has clear dialogue. There is one wildly fluctuating element to the track, whenever Evan goes back in time, the effect is accompanied by loud, chaotic sound. Be ready for it, if your system is turned up it gets loud very quickly.

  • Two Cuts of the Movie. The disk contains the theatrical and director's cuts of the film. I watched the latter, it runs a little longer, includes some necessary details cut from the theater, as well as an ending that New Line did not think would work well in theaters. I think it is better than the theatrical.
  • Commentary. The director's cut features a track from the creative team. They offer a lot of information on their attempts to get the movie made, the technical side of some of the effects, and all he changes they had to make to get it ready for theaters.
  • The Science and Psychology of Chaos Theory. This featurette takes a brief look at what chaos theory is.
  • The History and Allure of Time Travel. This features interviews with professors and therapists on the appeals of time travel.
  • The Creative Process. This is an interview with the writing/directing duo about the genesis and development of the project.
  • Visual Effects. This takes a look at the visual style and the effects implemented.
  • Fact Track. This is a pop up fact track that plays with the director's cut.Storyboards. A comparison of some boards to the finished film.
  • Deleted Scenes. These are available with commentary.
  • Trailer.

Bottomline. This is a good movie. It is involving and presents some intriguing ideas. It may not be terribly realistic, but it deals with time travel in a unique fashion. It shows that Ashton Kutcher can act, a little. It is certainly an underrated thriller that you should give a little time to.


Article first published as Blu-ray Review: The Butterfly Effect on Blogcritics.

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